Big draft? Big draft.
The Patriots have significant restocking to do this year. They lost their left tackle, their best front-seven player and a Hall of Fame tight end since the Super Bowl ended. They have a very experienced secondary that’s on the edge of aging. There’s no Tom Brady successor in the house. Their wide receiver group is Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett and a whole lot of hope for the recovery of Demaryius Thomas and stability of Josh Gordon. We’ll learn some stuff beginning Thursday. Here are six questions that will start getting answered then.
HOW LONG WILL WE HAVE TO WAIT?
I bet I can convince you the Patriots should trade up in this draft. Watch. They drafted 12 players last year and they have another 12 picks this year. They don’t have room on the roster for a couple dozen new players, nor do they have a fleet of experienced coaches to easily indoctrinate them. Moving up a little makes a difference.
First-round picks inside the top 25 yielded Isaiah Wynn (23), Chandler Jones (21), Dont'a Hightower (25) and Nate Solder (17) in the past 10 drafts. Outside, the Patriots have gotten Devin McCourty (27), Dominique Easley (29), Malcom Brown (32) and Sony Michel (31). The higher you go, the better the player.
But with the talent dropoff perceived to be after the first dozen players, the difference between the 15th pick and the 50th pick is said to be negligible. But it’s in the Patriots' nature to drop down and add picks. It gives them options and room to move. If there’s no pick made by the Patriots on Thursday, expect a wild night of trades on Friday.
Unless the wild trade comes on Thursday and the Patriots bring in Josh Rosen.
WILL THEY HAVE 2020 VISION?
If the Patriots do deal out of the first round, their preference almost certainly would be trading into next year. If they can get a team to send them a first-rounder for next April when the quarterback crop is expected to be much better with Tua Tagovailoa (Bama), Justin Herbert (Oregon) and Jake Fromm (Georgia), the Patriots would then have multiple first-rounders.
That kind of caché will give them more latitude when it’s time to replace the ageless wonder.
ANY LOVE FOR THE OFFENSE?
The Patriots have used their first selection on defense in 10 of the past 12 drafts. The only time they didn’t go defense, they selected offensive tackles (Nate Solder, 2011; Isaiah Wynn, 2018). Tight end is an obvious need spot but the best two, Iowa’s T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant, are expected to be gone by 32 and Alabama’s Irv Smith is regarded as a borderline first-rounder.
The top wideouts - A.J. Brown, Marquise Brown, Parris Campbell, D.K. Metcalf and Deebo Samuel - are varied talents and all fall in the 20 to 40 range. I truly wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots went wideout in the first round and if Campbell is the pick.
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DO THEY SEE A CHUNG SUCCESSOR?
Patrick Chung is 31 and this will be his 11th season. To do what he’s done – especially in the last five seasons – at the level he’s done it for as long as he’s done it is remarkable. He’s one of the most underrated players of the Patriots’ great run.
And it’s time to get serious about finding another player like him. As a guy who could cover deep, play in the box, play in the slot and contribute on special teams, Chung was actually a little ahead of his time. Now, every team needs a safety/linebacker/corner like him and teams are trying to get them.
Mississippi State’s Johnathan Abraham and Florida’s Chauncey Gardner-Johnson are two players who can bring Chung-like sensibilities. They are top-40 players.
WHAT’S THE LEVEL OF QUARTERBACK SERIOUSNESS?
The Patriots made it through 2018 with Brian Hoyer and Danny Etling as Tom Brady’s backups. That’s got to be one of the shakiest setups in the league. Meanwhile, two years earlier, the Patriots had arguably the best setup in the league with Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett.
Will the Patriots go into this draft looking for a Brady successor or a caddy for Hoyer? Unless Etling had an absolutely remarkable season of practices and an incredible offseason, the player we saw come out of LSU last April and play during training camp didn’t scream NFL potential. Expect the Patriots to draft somebody at the position in the first three rounds — and if they make a move up to go and get someone, that’s an indicator they aren’t just bringing in an arm because they should but are hoping he can be the No. 2 and maybe develop into an eventual starter. Say, Ryan Finley from N.C. State.
HOW ABOUT A BIG-PROGRAM WIDEOUT?
The Patriots have drafted wide receivers from such far-flung programs as Marshall (Aaron Dobson, 2nd round, 2013), TCU (Josh Boyce, 4th round, 2013), Ohio University (Taylor Price, 3rd round, 2009) and North Carolina (Brandon Tate, 3rd round, 2008).
Yes, Malcolm Mitchell was from Georgia and Chad Jackson was a second-rounder from Florida in 2006, but the Patriots are more prone to try and unearth a find at a mid-major than to take a wide receiver from a high-profile program. And how often is that going to work out?
Julian Edelman? OK, fine. Whatever.
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